The Photographer’s Wedding Day Gear Kit

Shooting a wedding is a HUGE undertaking. With only once chance to get it right, you want to be certain that you have all the right gear. But figuring out what you need is pretty daunting.

Need is, of course, a subjective idea. But we’re going to share with you the gear we found essential to shooting weddings! In our time as wedding photographers we shot around 75 weddings—ranging from simple one day affairs, to week long extravaganzas in India. We experienced a wide variety of situations, and tried out a lot of different gear. While there’s no such thing as a perfect kit, we did manage to find what worked well for us! We hope it might help you.

P.S. Photography equipment can be rather pricey, so when possible we’ll show you some low cost alternatives!

P.P.S. We shoot Canon, so this is all in Canon-speak. No hard feelings Nikon friends. Nikon has pretty much all the same stuff, so the basic ideas will apply!

Cameras 

Upload from July 11, 2011

We shoot with the Canon 5D and Canon 5D Mark II, which have been fantastic wedding cameras.

We started out with cropped sensor cameras (a Canon 10D and 20D) and noticed a significant improvement in image quality when we switched to full frame 5Ds. The experience of looking through the viewfinder was also a big improvement, as the viewing area is quite a bit larger.

We also saw better low light performance (great for dark receptions), and shallower depth of field (perfect for portraits).

The 5D Mark II is currently one of the most affordable full frame cameras (~$2500) but if you can’t swing the Mark II, see if you can find an original 5D used. You’ll still be blown away by the image quality.

These cameras don’t have the focusing systems of the more advanced 1-Series cameras, but for the level of action typical of weddings the 5Ds work out beautifully.

You also need a backup camera. No ifs, ands or buts. If you your main camera breaks in the middle of the day and you don’t have a backup camera you’ll be responsible for the loss of some pretty important memories.

The nice thing about backup cameras is that they don’t need to be the newest, most expensive model—they just need to be able to step in and do a good job on the off-chance your main camera breaks down. It should at least be an SLR that works with your lenses, but doesn’t necessarily need to be full frame.

Lenses

Upload from July 10, 2011

Our essential lens lineup was the Canon 35 1/1.4, the 50 f/1.4, the 85 f/1.8 and the 70-200 f/2.8. Here’s when we would use each one:

35: This is the widest lens we had, and very very rarely felt we needed anything wider. We used to have a Canon 24 f/1.4, but once we got the 35 we never used it. The 35 is absolutely fantastic for photojournalistic shooting, and wide portraits. It has little distortion, so you can use it for photos of people without making their features go all weird, which happens with more wide angle lenses. This guy was on our cameras for most of getting ready, a few shots at the church, some portraits, and wide first dance shots, and a ton of close up dancing images (since it lets you get right in the action).

50: The 50 is a focal length that every photographer should own. The field of view it captures most closely approximates human vision (on a full frame camera). It works well for every part of the day. Detail shots, getting ready shots, mid-length ceremony shots, all sorts of portraits, and even speeches, first dance, and dancing shots. It is so versatile that it works in any situation! The 50 also comes in a few flavours—Canon has a 1.8 (~$100), a 1.4 (~$400), and a 1.2 (~$1,600). You can find one to fit your budget.

85: The 85 is a fantastic portrait lens. It’s super flattering, and does a great job at isolating your subject. It’s also perfect for those times when you need a bit more reach than a 50 (like during the ceremony or the speeches, or close ups during the first dance, etc.).

70-200: This lens is a staple of wedding photography, primarily for ceremony shots. You want to be discrete during the ceremony, but still be able to capture close-up images of the bride and groom. There’s so much emotion going on, it’s the perfect time to really focus on their faces. The long end of the 70-200 lets you do this, with enough flexibility from zooming that you can get the right framing even if you’re limited in where you can stand. We primarily just used this lens during the ceremony, and a bit during receptions, but it was still pretty critical.

We really liked shoot
ing with prime lenses for the speed and image quality. But if you’re into zooms, a 24-70mm zoom would be a great lens to use to cover a lot of the primes we use. Some photographers might also enjoy a wide angle zoom like the 17-40mm.

You might like to try a couple specialty lenses. A popular one for weddings is a macro lens for close up detail shots (like the rings!). The Canon 100 Macro f/2.8 is very popular, and we had it for a while. There’s also a newer, snazzier version as well.

You could also try out a  tilt-shift lens (the Canon 45 TS-E is our favourite) for creative depth of field and perspective control.

Both types of lenses can be pricey so you might want to consider macro rings that cheaply convert lenses for macro capabilities, or a Lensbaby which produces an effect similar to tilt shift.

For awesome reviews on lenses head to The-Digital-Picture.com.

Accessories

Your camera and your lenses are the most important parts of your wedding day gear kit. But without the right accessories, you could find yourself in a tough spot! Here are the gizmos and gadgets we found useful.

Upload from July 11, 2011

A. Tripod: Useful for shots requiring slow shutter speeds. Detail shots in a dark reception hall, or photos of the venue at night.

B. Video Light: A video light is essentially a powerful flash light. Super useful for lighting ring shots and other reception details.

C. Flash: Reception halls are dark! The Canon 580EX works amazingly at bouncing flash.

D. Flash Battery Pack: Use these and your flash will recycle much faster! Really useful for situations like first dances and speeches. Canon makes their own battery pack, but you can also find much cheaper generic brand battery packs

E. Flash Diffuser: For situations where you can’t bounce flash (like outside, or extremely tall ceilings) flash diffusers help soften up direct flash. Stofen, Flip-it, LightSphere, or even an index card and an elastic will do!

F. Memory Cards: Make sure you have enough memory cards to cover the whole day! Stick with a reputable brand name like SanDisk when dealing with something as critical as a wedding. We’ve used off-brand memory cards before and had difficulty downloading images a few times.

G. Camera Bags: You need to carry your gear around somehow! We’ve found the Lowepro Stealth Reporter D650 to be one of the best non-roller bags. It will carry 2 cameras, 3-4 lenses, flashes, and up to a 17inch laptop. While the bag is heavy when loaded up, it’s actually easier to travel with than most roller bags. You can fit more gear into the bag, and it can still slip under airplane seats. For smaller bags we also use the Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home which holds a ton of gear for it’s size. Cambags is the place to go for camera bag reviews.

H. Shootsac: The Shootsac bag is great to wear while shooting. It’s basically 6 large neoprene pockets sewn together. There’s plenty of room for a few lenses, memory cards, and spare batteries.

I. Memory Card Wallets: Have a memory card wallet that you can keep on you at all times. When you’ve filled up a card, flip it over when you put it back in the wallet so you know it’s used up.

J. Lens Pens: These little tools are life savers. Easily remove smudges and dust from your lenses.

K. Spare Batteries: Make sure you have spare batteries for your flash and camera. Use small stickers so that you can mark the date you bought the batteries, and cycle through them regularly.

L. Microfiber Towels: These are great for wiping down gear, especially if you’ve had to shoot in rainy or snowy conditions.

M. Rocket Blower: Use a rocket blower to blow dust off the sensor.

N. SensorKlear Pen: If you notice some difficult to remove dust on your sensor this sensor pen will help dislodge it.

Every photographer will have unique preferences for the equipment that they use. Do you have any essential pieces of equipment that you use for weddings? Share it in the comments! 

Lauren Lim

Hey friend, I’m Lauren! I’m a photographer and head ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I’m downright obsessed with photography, and love sharing it with super cool folks like yourself. When I’m not shooting, or writing, you can find me cooking (and eating!), traveling, and hanging out with wonderful people.

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Comments

36 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. Both of you are pretty much responsible for the existence of the 5DmkII, 35mm and 50mm in my camera bag!!! ahahahahahah

  2. That's too funny Redza! Hope you're enjoying them :)

  3. Thank you very much! It's so useful for me that are new in this business.

  4. great timing! I have a wedding next weekend and this confirms I have everything I need! Great checklist! :)
    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thanks very much! This is super helpful. I appreciate that.

  6. What are your thoughts on the IS vs non-IS version of the 70-200? And Mk1 vs Mk2 of that lens?

    Just a note that these lenses can usually be rented from your local pro photo store to try them out for a session, weekend, or holiday. They'll generally discount your rental cost from the lens price if you decide to buy.

  7. Great point about borrowing lenses Evan! If your local store doesn't have a lens you'd like to borrow there are also online services like "lenslenders.ca":http://www.lenslenders.ca

    Image Stabilized vs. Non Image Stabilized – Good question! We use a Mk1 image stabilized version of the 70-200. We found the stabilization really helps with low light performance (like ceremonies and receptions, where we use the lens the most). It's actually quite incredible how much you notice the stabilization when you turn it on and off. Since I also use this lens for video the stabilization comes in handy there too!

    I haven't used the Mk2 version of the lens so I can't comment on it from experience – but from the images I've seen it seems like a worthy improvement. "The Digital Picture":http://www.the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/Canon-EF-70-200mm-f-2.8-L-IS-II-USM-Lens-Review.aspx has a great write up of the Mk2 with some some handy comparison photos (stacked cars 1/4 way down the page.) Definitely appears sharper than the MkI version.

    The only downer about the Mk2 is the price! If you can find a decent used Mk1 you'll probably save ~$1000. Though this will likely be a primary lens that you'll have for years so it might be worth investing in the newer / better performing glass. Tough call!

  8. You know, I used to use my 24-70 all the time, I got the 50 and the 85 because of you guys. I have found myself using the 24-70 very little now and tend to use the 50 much more often. I am seriously debating wether to let go of the 24-70 for the 35 or the 24 at this point… just wondering if I'll ever miss it.

    As always, good stuff :) thanks!

  9. I forgot to ask you guys, having both the 50 and 85 with almost the same low light capabilities, I realize that I tend to use the 50 1.4 much more. Can you give some insight as far as what is your thought process when choosing either one?

    I know the 85 must produce nicer bokeh because of the longer focal length, though you can probably achieve a very similar effect by getting closer with the 50, also I like the 50 for interiors because of there is obviously a higher chance of introducing any motion blur with the 85 at lower SS.

    Just curious to see how you guys think when choosing one over the other being both so similar.

  10. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I'm curious about a few things. First is about your choice of the 5D bodies. When I was first starting out I rented different bodies to see what I liked best. Due to budgetary reasons, the 1D's were out of my price range but I couldn't get over the terribly slow FPS of the 5D (3 FPS, I think?). I settled on the 50D with the 1.6 crop, but the 6.3 FPS. In your opinion, do you prefer the full frame over the FPS?

    Second, I've been using my 24-70mm f/2.8L as my work horse, but recently have been leaning to primes. We're currently purchasing the 35mm 1.4 but have been going back and forth on whether we want to spring for the L series for the 50mm and 85mm (we recently rented the 85 1.2 and loved it.) Have you noticed a big difference between the L series glass and the cheaper versions?

    Thanks again!

  11. *@Jose:* I'd say I use the 50 far far more than the 85, especially in portrait sessions. Which is funny, because the 85 is certainly more technically flattering for portraits. However I find it takes me pretty far away from my subjects, particularly when I'm shooting more than two people.

    I'd say I usually pull out the 85 if I'm doing a close up portrait of someone's face (like head and shoulders), or if I'm quite far away (like during the wedding ceremony).

    But that's just my own preference! I know lots of shooters who use the 85 far far more. I just prefer using the 50 and 35—it makes me feel more present, I suppose!

  12. *@Joe:* That's a very good question. I'd definitely say that the 5D can get frustrating with the slow FPS, and the buffer seems to fill up quickly. I'll admit I tend to shoot a LOT and quite fast, but it's been annoying for sure. The 5DMKII seems bit better, but of course it's still not as fast as a 1-series or 50D.

    Would I go for the cropped sensor to get the FPS? Probably not. I really really love the full frame look, and don't get SO annoyed with the slower FPS that I'd consider switching cameras.

    I guess there's just no perfect camera, and for me full frame is more important. But each shooter will have their own priorities!

    And then, when it comes to L series, they definitely do have a difference in terms of better colour. Is that difference worth the extra money? I guess that's another subjective thing! For us, we haven't yet felt like we were limited by what we could do with the 50 1.4 and the 85 1.8. They produce wonderful images, and with a bit of tweaking in Lightroom, I'd imagine the photos they produce would be very tough to distinguish from the L series. If money wasn't an object, we'd definitely love to have them. But in the real world, it hasn't been worth it for us yet!

    Hope that helps! :)

  13. Sondra at ShinyBlackApple Photography says:

    I agree that 5dm2 is very good camera for weddings. Since we have upgraded from 450d to 5dm2 we felt a massive difference in pictures especially the full frame and low light pictuers amazing. The ISO sensor is much more sensitive on 5d, its amazing all the laser lights colors it captures on the dancefloor! My favorite camera :)

  14. Thanks for the comment Sondra! I agree, the full frame and low light capabilities are awesome! It's such a fun camera to shoot with :)

  15. Great post. I've been meaning to add a Marco and I dream about the 85mm 1.2 to my wedding gear.

  16. Thanks Mario! I dream about the 85mm 1.2 as well :D

  17. Perfect list I need H. the shootsac

  18. Nice post Lauren. Even being 1 year+ old it’s still relevant. Couldn’t help noticing that you haven’t mentioned any sort of lightstand, umbrellas/hazylight/softboxes or any gear for some studio shots (set up on location) or formal shots. I know many will say that a posed formal shot is not in vogue anymore but it is a must for me. Thanks for sharing.
    Cheers!

    • Lauren Lim says:

      Thanks Hugo! You’re right, we didn’t use any umbrellas or studio gear. But we definitely still did posed formal shots at every wedding. They’re an important part of family history! We simply used natural light for them. Never had trouble finding a good spot with nice light!

      We really like to keep things simple when we shoot, so that’s why we stayed away from portable studio setups. But they work great for tons of photographers!

  19. I THINK THE 85 1.8 IS DOG SLOW…. I gave up on it and it sits in the car as a spare should i need it. When it actually decides to focus it works

  20. a really small addition, I would highly recommend adding a ‘rain‘ bag/sleeve of some sort – protective coat for your camera/lens setup. Better safe than sorry, and you can pick up two of them for about 15 bucks and just keep them in your pack. I think this is a great comprehensive list. Oh, and maybe assure you have a ‘reliable’ vehicle. Cheers.

    -a not to those starting out, you don’t ‘absolutely’ need all of this right away, it’s something to build towards and can take a year or more to acquire.

  21. Thank you! My first wedding is in May, I appreciate the comment regarding not needing studio equipment. I plan on natural light as well. Shooting w a Canon MKIII.

  22. Alabi Mike says:

    Mario,
    Thanks for all the eye openers.
    Am some months old in photography and
    Bought a 60D cannon with an EFS 18-135mm
    Lens Efs 55-250. Need ur advise regarding
    This equipement if they can serve the
    Purpose of a wedding phographer well.
    I intend buying more later.

  23. Good reminders summed up. I always pack a blanket and umbrella as well.

  24. Deanna R. Jones says:

    I’ve always wanted to work as a wedding photographer. I would like to start working professionally by the summer. I already have a good camera, so I just need to find out about the extra gear that I would need. It seems like a good idea to have a few specialty lenses on hand so that I can take detailed shots. How necessary is it to have a rocket blower? I don’t really have a problem with blowing dust off of my sensor, so I don’t see why I should get it unless it were absolutely necessary. Thanks for this information!

  25. i’m new da bussines my 1st wedding shoot it usin 18-55 it was ok but it ddnt give me da blur bckgrnd i nided and 70-200it was gud. nw im goin 2 get myslf a 50mm cuz i got a wedding in 3wikz tym.tanx 4 da tips

  26. Hi. I’m about to do my first wedding. I have a Canon 6d with a 50 f1.8 and a 24-105 f1.4. I’m not sure what else I should get. Thanks.

    • that will just about cover everything you need, defintely get a backup lens though incase one of them fails :) (even if its a kit lens its better than no lens!)

  27. I use 2 Nikon D7100s (yes crop sensor but I like them, they also hold 2 sdcards each so no lost pics!)

    nikon 50mm 1.8G for portraits and reception work, Tamron 17-50 for group shots and a Nikon 40mm macro lens for wedding rings (with ring flash fitted)

    also 3 speedlights , (2 fitted on umbrellas facing each end of the group shots) and 1 on camera with diffuser fitted for fill flash

    works well for me :)

    • Yikes, I hope you aren’t charging very much. I mean, I guess you can get what you need with a certain amount of skill, but if my photographer showed up with a crop censored body and Tamron glass I wouldn’t be too happy.

      That being said, I’d take a really amazing photographer with nothing but a DX and a 50, over a rookie with the Trinity.

  28. Thank you for all the tips – certainly food for thought on the prime lens front and I’m considering the 50mm 1.4 as my next purchase. I currently shoot weddings with a 1Ds3 and 24-105 L – I find it gets me close without being close and the IQ is stunning. My backup is a 40D and I have the fantastic Sigma 50-150 2.8 OS on it most of the time.

  29. Hi. I’m about to do my first wedding. I have a Canon 6d with a 50 f1.8 and a 24-105 f1.4. I’m not sure what else I should get. Thanks.

    • Make sure you have 1 lens that is sharp all the way to the corners for portraits of wedding party. That has been my biggest frustration. Bride and groom are sharp, and the wedding party gets soft and blurry. If you are comfortable using your 50, you’ll be Ok, if not I’d get a 35mm. Your 50 will be fine for Bride/Groom and your 24-105 will be fine for candids. I’d go 35mm for groups. 85mm would be my 2nd choice. Using a 50mm for all portraits will tend to limit your look. 85mm is great for portraits and looks much nicer than a 50mm.

  30. Is there an alternative for 5d? Thanks peeps

  31. Well everythin’ you’ve mentioned are really important and I appreciate your works, I mean it, Kindly share your experience with me about lenses: 85mm 1.8 Vs 50mm 1.4, Which one is best for the portraiture if someone can afford one of them at a time…!.
    Thank you.

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